How Ex-Bikram Studios are Killing Their Own Communities

by Tim Clark on August 13, 2016

pratyaharaBefore Bikram Crash (which I jokingly nicknamed ‘Brexit’ until Brexit actually happened then it suddenly wasn’t funny anymore) life was simple for us Bikram Teachers…

We taught in one or two local Studios where we lived, we may or may not have had another job or partner to share the bills, and we practiced 3 or more times a week in the same Studios we taught in and maybe all giggled and moaned through Advanced together once a week; simple. We’d holiday solely in towns with other Bikram Studios. We socialised with other Bikram teachers. We wanted to share, perhaps too evangelically, ‘this practice’ with anyone who was prepared to sweat with us!

And who would EVER want to Practice any OTHER form of yoga anyway?…

Bikram had set the rule many moons ago that ‘Bikram Teachers never pay for Class’ so for anyone considering Teacher Training, whether or not we would return to our home studios and earn enough from teaching to feed our families, we would at least get free yoga for the rest of our days. This was clever of ‘the Boss’, not only did it incentivise those not 100% sure about the investment of training to go, but it also kept his community together. Life crisis? Go to yoga. Break up? Go to yoga. Broke and Bankrupt? Do a double!

Even those Teachers who’d fallen out with their local studio owner for whatever reason (and this happened sadly too often) would inevitably have to show up sooner or later to practice at the only Bikram Studio in town & they’d have to find peace with one another someHOW in that hot room. This ‘free yoga’ legacy kept his community together, however dysfunctional, and whatever the weather.

It was always a bonus whilst teaching to have another Teacher in the Class – up the front row, smiling or struggling, it’s handy to have another teacher to demo or share a wink with in the Hot Room – good for Students to see ‘Ah, they are still doing it, they are suffering with us, there must be some longevity in this practice after all’ and great for the Teacher to build camaraderie. Sometimes, as a travelling teacher or just not working for a previous studio anymore I would be grateful for my ‘free’ class by encouraging the newbies, or picking up rubbish in the changing area or even saying to friends who want to meet for a cuppa ‘Join me for yoga first?’ thus introducing them to that studio.

Goodwill goes a long way doesn’t it?

Since Bikram’s fall from grace however and subsequent name changes, things have shifted. Recently I went to a local Studio to be told ‘Oh Naomi, with things the way they are, we are really struggling for cash, we’ve looked at valuing what we do, so we are charging Teachers now for class, it’s a reduced rate, besides we are not a Bikram Studio anymore, so we…er, we can.’

I was disappointed. The reduced rate of £10 per class meant it was going to cost me £200 per month to continue to practice at a Studio where the Monthly Direct Debit is half that amount! Was my tenner per class really going to save that Studio? Of course not. But is that Studio alone in this shifty sideswipe? Nope.

I’m hearing this shortsighted sorry tale right across the globe – and the message is that Studios are struggling and the community is dead – how sad? But is it really true or are Studios cherry-picking the benefits of freedom and independence as a way to opportune, in addition to offering a vinyasa class to the schedule or their own teacher trainings?

Not ALL Studios and Teachers are operating on these same rules. The Teachers who Studio Owners WANT to have around, keep on cover lists and socialise with, cut a deal and throw down the (welcome) mat. Perhaps then, using the money issue is just a cheap way of saying ‘We simply don’t really want you here.’

So when another Ex-Bikram Studio owner called me about this very issue recently my advice was ‘Don’t do it.’

My reasoning was this –

  •  Invite as many people into your community as you can & make them feel WELCOME & at home & they will return and bring friends (who will also buy mat rental, towels, workshops, coconut water and onzie leggings!)
  •  Goodwill costs nothing but ill will costs dearly
  • If you have space in your classes, fill it by welcoming in members of the local teaching community – if you’re building a bridge, build it with the strongest bricks!
  • Don’t hurt yourself or the Teacher for their credit card, it insults you both
  • Yoga teachers are great at networking and building communities, keep ’em loyal and sweet (whether or not they currently teach for you) and your studio will get the dividends
  • There are SO many yoga studios out there now, there is not just one place in town to go to – make YOURS the most welcoming, open, happy and kind and those good vibes attract more of the same…
  • Lost and disappointed Bikram teachers will float off to other styles for inspiration. Their students will follow suit and follow what their old teacher is practicing lately. Bring it all under your own roof and make your Studio into a destination whilst keeping the 26 & 2 the most internationally practiced yoga in the world (whatever you want to call it!)
  • A Teacher will usually have longstanding friendships with the students in your town who visit your studio (or might do in the future.) When students ask ‘Why don’t you practice there much anymore?’ Is the Teacher supposed to say ‘because they charge me now’ ? (which makes a Studio seem at worse malicious or at best desperate for cash.) Imagine how that conversation is gonna flow and negotiate something kinder – come to an agreement with the Teacher, flyering, grabbing you a juice on the way in, an exchange of some sort that you both feel comfortable with.
  • Ask yourself “Where is the LOVE?”…and if you really get present to that, you’ll realise it’s not gonna cost you anything to open your heart and put another mat down in the corner for a member of your yoga family.

So, this Studio Owner in question came up with the suggestion of visiting teachers emailing her first to say ‘I’m in town, can I practice at your Studio?’ PERFECT solution! This is a win/win situation and respectful and welcoming for all parties.

Given the choice now, with my nearest Ex-Bikram studio I can pay the parking & train fare to get there then pay to get in, then pay for a mat towel or water, listen to a new teacher’s class then give them feedback/training when they invariably ask for it OR I can go to my local little studio in another style of yoga, pay a fiver, learn something new for myself, have total ‘me’ time, chill and be back home in time for lunch….what would you do?

My old Bikram Studio, now Dynamic Yoga in Hove (yes the one I started up myself all those years ago) now hosts my fave class of the week – ironically it’s an Ashtanga Class with the awesome Lolo Bizarro. The new owners won’t take my money for class. It’s worth it for them for me to be feeling good about myself when I practice there. If I’m not travelling, I’m there every week. I tag them in my social media thus advertising and endorsing their space to my followers and friends, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy,  it works for them, it works for me, it couldn’t feel more open. Except now most weeks I meet a friend or two for a hangout and I take them there instead for practice rather than a Studio that charges me.

You know what tho, at the end of the day, it’s not the money that’s the driver, it’s what that represents. I will practice where the vibe is the most relaxed and where I feel safe and part of something special.

THIS is how communities get built and sustained. And the most VALUABLE thing to a Studio is NOT the Teacher, the Heaters or the Owner, it is the Community. And that’s priceless. 

Meanwhile – and I just wanna put it out there – ALL BIKRAM TEACHERS and Studio Owners (yep, even you fearful ones who charge me for class) YOU are Welcome to Practice at my classes in Lewes or Eastbourne free of charge any time you like. You’ve already paid for your classes during 9 weeks in the torture chamber and because of this, we are linked together forever! I know you will help me out by asking if the students or myself need a helping hand because that’s how we were taught…Lock the Knee!

With love & respect,

Namaste! 

‘Make happy those who are near, and those who are far will come’ – Proverb

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Chantelle Elbert August 14, 2016 at 4:42 am

Well said. Surely it is a mutual respect for one another as teachers not to charge? Yoga, whatever the style brings something to everyone’s table. A different style of class brings us out of our comfort zones, challenges us further, enables us to see a new view and maybe make some new friends along the way …

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Tim Clark August 15, 2016 at 8:57 pm

I’ve thought about that too Chantelle, particularly with my Students who have subsequently trained in other styles. I’m still floating in my opinion overall on this one – especially perhaps no one should pay for yoga..?

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byt August 15, 2016 at 3:37 pm

The studio where I teach has always charged teachers (a reduced but still pricey rate) and that has always been awful. “What have they done for me that I should give them a free class” the then-owner (who by that point hated both Bikram, the man, and the Yoga) would reason. She even charged students from her studio who returned from training whom she wouldn’t let teach. As a result, the studio and its teachers were disconnected from the teacher scene in our country – which is tiny, anyway. No one ever wanted to come visit and as a result, we had trouble finding new teachers when we lost some to moving away or Bikram Burnout. Teachers also had to pay full price to events – hence they didn’t profit from the senior teachers we brought in (and I am sure they would have brought in some of their students, too). In total, we got maybe half a dozen teachers who dropped in during a year – and charging them made me feel awful; it was never like in NYC, where there are always tons of teachers dropping in at all times. Lately I have been teaching at a studio that other teachers flock to – and not just, because they can practise there for free. A studio that feels like a haven to teachers is a studio where our community is maintained, where information is shared, where discussion about teaching takes places. It is a place where we become better teachers. I am thankful these places still exist and never take a free class for granted.

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Tim Clark August 15, 2016 at 8:56 pm

This is a very common story – it’s about the vibe a studio gives off for sure!

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Julia August 15, 2016 at 7:35 pm

HEAR, HEAR….I couldn’t have said it better myself!!
Thanks for sharing the love 🙏

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Tim Clark August 15, 2016 at 8:55 pm

Welcome Julia 🙏🏼

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Charles Buchanan August 15, 2016 at 8:16 pm

I’m not a studio owner, but have bee practicing Bikram for 13 years.
Your absolutely right the article was very well written

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Tim Clark August 15, 2016 at 8:55 pm

Thank you Charles – it was mulled over during many classes…

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Tony Levelle August 15, 2016 at 9:30 pm

Excellent marketing advice and excellent yoga advice. Your insight about community is brilliant. (TT 2008, currently studying Iyengar style)

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Tim Clark August 15, 2016 at 11:47 pm

Thanks Tony – we ARE it, right?!

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Beverly August 15, 2016 at 9:57 pm

If you are ever in San Francisco practice at Bikram Yoga North Beach, the first Bikram school in the United States, and still owned by Bikram today. We do not charge teacher’s; it’s great to hear and see other Bikram teacher’s in the community – we love the energy in the room and the conversation(s) after class.

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Tim Clark August 15, 2016 at 11:46 pm

This is great to hear!!! Positive – Yay! I’ll pop in if I’m in town and happy to fold towels or whatever for my free class!

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Linea Ross August 16, 2016 at 1:26 am

Always a treat as a teacher to practice at North Beach and the no charge policy is so rare in the area, so welcome!

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Julia August 15, 2016 at 10:30 pm

You bring up some really valid points. It pains me to charge Bikram teachers at our no-longer Bikram studio. But it’s complicated. We also offer hot vinyasa, and it’s not really fair to charge vinyasa teachers but allow Bikram teachers to practice for free. We don’t offer free yoga to vinyasa teachers because these days vinyasa TTs are a dime a dozen and everyone and their mom seems to be getting certified. I don’t get free class at the studio where I did my vinyasa TT for example. As for Bikram teachers, we have at least three community members who have been trained to teach 26&2 at a non Bikram affiliated TT. What to do with them? They were trained a lot better than I was at Bikram’s official training. Why should official Bikram trainees get free class but not these folks? At our studio it just got too complicated and our studio owner, who is the most generous and accommodating studio owner I’ve ever worked for btw, had to draw a line. I don’t know what the solution is but I agree with you that the Bikram community as a whole is suffering in part thanks to these policies.

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Tim Clark August 15, 2016 at 11:45 pm

That’s a very honest answer Julia – our vinyasa teachers also currently get to practice for free – but this is the UK where we haven’t (yet) hit the absorption rates of the US so most of the class aren’t teachers. Hear ya re the 26/2 training v Bikram training dilemma – for me currently I would rather ask a Bikram Teacher to cover my classes, simply due to knowing what they’ve been through. Again, that may change over time.

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Claire August 15, 2016 at 11:12 pm

I am appalled that anyone would ever want to have anything to do with the Bikram. This is about morals and ethics. I paid Bikram $16,600 for training last year in Atlantic city. He changed to Thailand last minutes and changed the dates. I could not go. He refused to give my my money back. I have received 0.00 of my money back. I am not alone. There are others who never got their money back. It is totally disgusting – I have cried, begged, begged, begged for my money. How can anyone trust him or give him any money knowing everything he has done and continues to do. I saved up for 5 years, and made the biggest mistake of my life by trusting that Bikram Yoga was trustworthy. I was wrong.

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Tim Clark August 15, 2016 at 11:51 pm

Claire – this is a HORRIBLE story – I’m so sorry to hear this kinda thing. Have you asked if you can go next year to get your money’s worth or are you totally put off now (don’t blame you frankly if you are!) I wish I could
Offer some more useful advice but I don’t know the legalities. What did the small print say? This is the thing, big difference between the yoga and the man who put his name to it. I love the yoga! Hope this gets resolved soon for you.

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former bikram yoga teacher August 15, 2016 at 11:23 pm

Thank you for writing this. I practiced for six months at a studio I formally taught at, left and then returned to (under a different owner, but still). I was charged full price the entire time, while other teachers, not teaching there, were not charged, until I was asked to teach. After teaching there for almost two years, pouring my heart and soul into the studio, teaching 5-8 classes per week, I was callously “let go” at the worst possible time. I was suffering a deep, life-threatening depression. To make matters worse, when I applied for unemployment (which I legitimately was entitled to and received; in fact, the folks at unemployment suggested I look into a wrongful discharge lawsuit), the owner submitted pages of scathing, out of context criticisms and half truths about my performance while teaching at that studio. This after receiving a glowing performance review a few short months earlier. I was given no warning, and no opportunity to correct perceived “misconduct”. I was just gone. It was easily one of the most devastating events in my life. And it was all about the owners bottom line. Horror stories like this and worse, seem to be endemic to the Bikram studio culture. Hindsight is 20/20. I’m glad to be out of it.

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Tim Clark August 15, 2016 at 11:41 pm

I’ve seen this in non-Bikram Studios too – being self-employed Teachers don’t seem to have the same employment rights (this is another blog!) Good you are out of it now tho!

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Jerome Armstrong August 16, 2016 at 12:32 am

The irony here is the photo of Gouri Shankar Mukerji, a person for whom many of his accomplishments under Bishnu Ghosh were taken by Bikram and claimed as his own.

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Tim Clark August 16, 2016 at 7:28 am

👌🏽 Well spotted!

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Jordi August 16, 2016 at 5:53 am

So much true the world need this yoga so badly the connection the love.

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Tim Clark August 16, 2016 at 7:35 am

Love your post – you raise some great points! I’m also an ex-Studio owner and teacher for 16 years, I never charged Teachers for class and have addressed that this issue has grown due to changes in the ‘industry’. It’s not one Studio Owner, but many operating from fear. Naomi (Tim is the Webmaster)

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Amber August 17, 2016 at 3:53 am

Eh hm- frequency yoga in San Rafael California- previously Bikram yoga San Rafael for over 15 years > come vacation with us : free yoga for “proven” Bikram teachers. Bikram, power, yin, trx it’s all yours….. Yoga teachers need it more then anyone else… Annnnd our Bikram room is still to the highest “regulation” standards *and* only Bikram is practiced in there – we have a separate state of the art hot/cold room for everything else.

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